When we visited The Gambia in December it was encouraging to hear that throughout the country there are now 300 visually impaired children receiving full time education.
This is because the IEP (Integrated Education Programme), run by the Gambian education department, continues with the expansion of training teachers who are able to assist visually impaired children across The Gambia with their education and the supply of necessary teaching aids.
This was one of the key aims of our founder member and trustee David Pointon. His death in May 2019 was a sad loss. Without him the Friends could not have achieved so much.
We found the GOVI school a hive of activity in December. The school dining hall was being used to distribute rice to visually impaired persons, the rice having been donated by various agencies. The distribution appeared to be well organised with all those receiving rice being given a numbered slip and a mark on their hand.
There was good attendance by all the school pupils who were their usual noisy selves. The school building had weathered the heavy rains with just a few leaks in the ceilings. A coat of paint would not go amiss. A lady had contacted the Friends indicating a willingness to assist but as yet there has been no further contact.
Alieu Jaiteh, the founder and director of Start Now, the technical centre for visually impaired young people located at Brikama, had a very busy year. Do visit the Start Now in The Gambia website for his full and interesting calendar of events during 2019.
Muhammed Krubally, who was supported by the Friends when studying for the Bar and who now sits on the Brikama Youth Court Bench, has become an inspiration to other visually impaired students.
The Yahaddy nursery school, which opened three years ago thanks to a donation from a founder member of the Friends, now has all three classrooms occupied. Whilst spending time at the school I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the teachers and the keenness of the pupils. One little boy was constantly asking to go home when he first started at the school. Now he does not want to go home at the end of the day.
The Friends have agreed to sponsor a roundabout (made from recycled materials) and a canopy to shade the equipment and children from the blistering heat in the hot season.
In a country where over 20 per cent of the GDP depends upon tourism the collapse of Thomas Cook was a major setback as that company was the main supplier of flights from the UK and holidays to The Gambia. Fortunately other nationalities are now visiting The Gambia with the Dutch leading the way. In general, under President Adama Barrow, the people appear to be happier and more relaxed.
Thanking all who continue to support the Friends.
Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia
It is with great sadness that I announce the death on May 19 2019 of fellow founder and former trustee, David Pointon.
Thirty years ago David answered my appeal for assistance for the blind and visually impaired children of The Gambia. At that time David was head of what was then the Sensory Support Service of the Norfolk County Education Department.
Joining me in The Gambia David soon assessed the needs of the blind and visually impaired children there. His list was frighteningly long.
To mention a few: proper training for the few teachers who were working with the children; computers with special programmes to assist training; Braille machines and paper; tape recorders; and even a purpose-built school. At that time the few pupils attending a dedicated facility were housed in an annex to a mainstream school in Banjul.
David - with great enthusiasm - set to work with myself and my wife, Joan, to start meeting those needs. A charity was registered first as the Friends of GOVI (The Gambian Organisation for the Visually Impaired) and later as the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia. Funds were successfully raised for building a special school for the children at Serrekunda.
A highlight for David was the purchase of a minibus in 2003 and, together with Malcolm Garner, drove to The Gambia with urgently needed equipment. Subsequently he organised and led several other overland deliveries including that with the Dales Team in late 2006 and with members of the Wensleydale Rotary Club in January 2010 The minibuses were then used by the school.
After several years of meetings with the Minister of Education we succeeded in obtaining an agreement that student teachers, as part of their training, would spend time with disabled pupils at St John’s School for the Deaf and at the GOVI School for the Visually Impaired (both at Serrekunda).
David worked closely with the Education Department and with the Integrated Education Programme headed by Nancy Mendy and her deputy Sarjo Bajinka.
Having just returned from The Gambia I was unable to inform David that there were now over 300 visually impaired children receiving education and of Nancy Mendy’s latest initiative to recruit more teachers. This is a legacy that David could be proud of.
All I can say is: Thank you David for all your help and support over the years and for realising my dream of a future of hope for the blind and visually impaired children of The Gambia.
Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia
for more informatioin about David see www.pipspatch.com
This is sadly the final chapter of the Friends of the Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia charity as we plan to de-register with the Charity Commissioners in 2019.
Joan and I left The Gambia after our visit in November 2018 happy in the knowledge that the GOVI Board (Gambian Organisation for the Visually Impaired) which oversees the school now has a new director and deputy director. They are younger and forward thinking not only for themselves but for the children in the school.
Their chairperson, Ndey Yassin Secker, who is visually impaired, is now an elected member of the Gambian House of Representatives (Parliament).
The new board is now working together with Start Now Technical Centre at Brikama. The Friends funded the construction of the Start Now building. One of the founders of Start Now, Alieu Jaiteh, was on 5 December 2018 awarded a certificate of honour by the UN for his voluntary work. For more information about Start Now see www.startnow-gambia.org
Above: Using an electronic magnifier at the Start Now centre. The magnifiers were taken to The Gambia by Jim and Violet Phillips of FOTGA. At the GOVI school they were told these were not suitable for the children. So Phil and Joan introduced them to Start Now. Alieu Jaiteh thanked the Phillips and stated: "The magnifiers will help our low vision beneficiaries to be able to read and view objects". He thanked Phil and Joan for their great support.
When we first visited The Gambia 29 years ago we found that those who were born blind faced a life of being beggars on the streets with no education and little hope for the future. Now, thanks to our Trustees, our many supporters, individual contributors and the wonderful work of The Gambian Integration Education Programme (IEP) this has changed considerably.
The IEP not only continues with the education of those who have left the GOVI School, but also now has 30 trained teachers for visually impaired students across the country. The latter supervise nearly 300 pupils all of whom are equipped by the IEP with Braille machines, Braille text books, tape machines and supplies of Braille paper.
One former pupil of the GOVI School, Muhammed Krubally, obtained his LLB at the Gambian University. The Friends sponsored him in his further studies providing a lap top and a fantastic computer programme for the visually impaired purchased from Dolphin Software at a greatly reduced price. Due to his hard work he passed his bar exams, became a Barrister and now sits at the Brikama Youth Court as a Senior Magistrate. By his example several visually impaired students are seeking to emulate him and are attending various courses at Brikama College.
Other charities and individuals have now come on board to assist the GOVI School including the Dutch Foundation which sponsored the building of two new nursery classes; Friends of the Gambia Association (FOTGA); a Gambian based UK charity which has restarted the banana project with a new irrigation system and has also paid for the repair of the school wall; and a Belgian lady who brought many Braille machines. Various individuals have also visited the school and delivered food and school stationery as requested. All this support for the school is welcome.
A big thank you to Lamin Saidy, our Gambian member and representative, with whose help the seemingly insurmountable problems have been solved.
Lamin Saidy’s wife, Haddy, will retire soon as the head teacher of a large school. Her dream has been to have her own nursery school which would be open to some children with special needs. This dream has now been realised with a three-classroom nursery school thanks to contributions from The Friends and with a major contribution from a Dutch friend, Rianne.
Haddy pops in to supervise the nursery and will, after she retires, give all her time to that school. It has been open less than two years and is gaining a reputation for providing its students with an excellent education. Two classes are full and the third will open soon.
When we visited in December we found lots of happy children who enjoyed my reading of Old McDonald had a Farm, and they joined in with the various animal sounds and chorus.
Once again I cannot thank everyone enough for all their support and their contributions. Several have supported The Friends for many years.
Although the charity will be de-registered in 2019 Joan and myself will, as long as possible, return to our second home, visiting the many projects and people. We pledge that any of the funds coming our way will be spent on where we find the need or there is a request. Details will continue to be posted on this website.
Any person visiting The Gambia is very welcome to visit any of these projects. For help or assistance contact Lamin Saidy on +220 991 7030.
February 2018 saw Joan Feller back in The Gambia with a list of things to do.
She had taken with her a sound system which had been donated to Start Now and was able to present it during her visit. It was much appreciated.
She was delighted to see that Start Now was going from strength to strength. During that visit there was a demonstration on how to use a white cane as well as the presentation of one to a young man who had successfully completed his training.
It is with great sadness to announce that one of our charity’s founder members and trustee, Donald Victor Newbold CBE has passed away after a short illness.
Don, as he was known to many, had retired as chairman of Foster Wheeler Inc when this charity was founded in 1998. He was honoured as a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1986 for his services to export.
He soon became one of the trustees of this charity and travelled to The Gambia many times as he had a vision to build a school for visually impaired children in that country. He had pledged that he would attend the opening of the school in 2002 whatever his commitments - and he was true to his word.
On one occasion, after the school and dining hall had been built, he learnt that there wasn’t a kitchen. As one of his main priorities was the welfare of the children he immediately donated funds so that a kitchen could be built.
In the last few years he was unable to fly to The Gambia but continued to give considerable support for all our projects. He looked forward to my visiting him at his home after our trips to The Gambia. He enjoyed looking at the photographs of the school and reading my reports and, when he wanted further details, was quick to ask questions.
Don will be sadly missed by many here in the UK and in The Gambia.
Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia
The Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia 2017 report concerning the Start Now project, Haddy's nursery school ( Yahaddy Nursery School ), the situation with GOVI, and other encouraging news.
It was so encouraging during 2017 to see the Start Now Project going from strength to strength with the guidance of Alieu Jaiteh, its Director and Founder, and Charles Gomez, the chairman. The Friends have funded the construction of the building as Start Now aims to assist the visually impaired in their further education.
This includes training in daily skills such as the use of white canes which enables them to walk around with greater safety and confidence. There are also computer lessons which will help them to find employment. The six visually impaired students studying at the College of Further Education at Brikama often pop in for assistance or extra lessons as the Start Now building is nearby.
Congratulations to all at Start Now for their hard work and dedication. The objective of Start Now is to empower blind and visually impaired people. Its website is: www.startnowgambia.org.
After almost 20 years the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in The Gambia is about to complete its final project.
The trustees particularly wanted to say 'thank you' to Lamin Saidy for all his hard work and patience and the way he has supported The Friends over the years. So it was agreed to sponsor the dream of his wife Haddy to set up her own nursery school which will include some children with special needs. Below: some of the first pupils at Haddy's nursery school.
Haddy is about to retire as the head of a large upper basic school at Sukuta and so has extensive experience in education. Her nursery school has been built on land owned by Lamin in Brufut. She will allocate one of the classrooms as a day care centre.
Although this is the charity's final project Joan and Phil will continue to travel to The Gambia to give, when possible, support to the Start Now Centre in Brikama. This is going from strength to strength but still requires assistance as will Haddy's nursery school.
We feel it is wonderful that, after so many years, the Director of GOVI has said that its school is able to run without the support of The Friends. Thanks to the Gambian Education Department over 200 visually impaired children have been integrated into main-stream schooling.
January 26, 2016
Congratulations to Muhammed Krubally for becoming the first visually impaired person in the history of The Gambia to be a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of that country.
He wrote: "I acknowledge the true friends like Joan and Phil and my sponsors without whom attaining this important position might be impossible or delayed. I thank God a lot.
Phil and Joan Feller were sad that neither of them were able to attend the graduation ceremony. They would also have liked to have seen M Krubally's new daughter, born on January 6.
Phillip Feller commented: "This is an amazing story". It is a truly inspiring story not just for visually impaired children in The Gambia but anywhere in the world.
Phillip and Joan Feller, representing the Friends of Visually Impaired Children in the Gambia, attended the inauguration of the Start Now project at Brikama in the Gambia on May 28, 2016.
The objectives of Start Now are to provide further education and training for the visually impaired and blind young people who have completed their schooling.
With the charity now winding down a quieter year was expected but then Lamin Saidy, our Gambian member and representative, introduced us to the Start Now team (above).
This centre of Technology for Visually Impaired people, based at Brikama, was the dream of founder members Alieu Jaiteh and Charles Gomez. When we met them in November 2014 we were so impressed by their in enthusiasm and commitment to the education of visually impaired young people after main-stream schooling.
Phil and Joan Feller visited the Gambia in May and reported:
Once again Start Now has done a cracking good job on the construction of a wall to provide more security for the building, and added protection for the staff and students. The murals were painted by Ebrima Saho.
We had a long chat with the team as they still need help with computer equipment and other items. We advised them to set up a "Friends of Start Now".
Haddy's nurse school is nearly finished. Joan has managed to sell a few more items [at car boot sales] and so was able to give Lamin some money to complete the work before the official opening at the beginning of the September term. Rianne, the wonderful Dutch nurse, will provide the furniture which, at present, is in storage.
The Start Now team beside Ebrima Saho's mural
The entrance to the Start Now compound
Haddy's nursery school